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Carrabba's server receives show of support after anti-gay message

Updated: 2013-10-26T22:06:25Z

By TIM ENGLE and LISA GUTIERREZ

The Kansas City Star

There was no sign waving, and no crowds gathered, but a steady trickle of supporters turned out Friday night for the Overland Park waiter who instead of getting tipped got insulted — for his supposed “homosexual lifestyle.”

Just after 6 p.m. at the Carrabba’s Italian Grill at 106th Street and Metcalf Avenue, a hostess said the server was working and that his section was already full.

Marci Eigenschenk of Kansas City had heard about the call for a show of support through Facebook. She said she’d be joining a party of 14 that had made reservations for the 20-year-old waiter’s section.

“Quite frankly, it’s nobody’s business what your sexuality is, to do your job,” she said.

Becky Still and Angela Baker of Overland Park, a couple for 13 years, said they were at Carrabba’s because they at least wanted to meet the young man. Still was hoping to slip him some cash.

When Baker’s sister Rita Madewell heard about the incident — about how a couple left a homophobic screed for the server on a receipt — “I was like, really? Wow. That’s so disrespectful,” she said.

News stories about what apparently happened at Carrabba’s earlier this week spread quickly online. In the note left for the server, the couple acknowledged he provided excellent service but that his lifestyle was “an affront to God.”

Though the server has asked not to be identified and an image of the couple’s note has not been posted online, it led to the Carrabba’s chain issuing a statement on nondiscrimination.

Even without the evidence, the episode has the whiff of legitimacy, says David Hayden, a server himself (at the Majestic Restaurant downtown) and author of the book “Tips Squared.”

“It’s really not uncommon for guests to leave notes on the credit card receipt or on the check,” Hayden said.

“I would say it probably happens to me a couple of times a week, both positive and negative. … It’s something that guests feel empowered to do, and a lot of times they’ll put it on the credit card receipt assuming it’ll make it to the manager.”

According to news reports, the message left for the Carrabba’s server said: “Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD.

“(Gay slur) do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your (gay slur) choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly.

“It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for (gay slur). May GOD have mercy on you.”

Friends of the waiter, appalled on his behalf, spread word of the incident on social media.

“What Kind of Jerk Refuses to Tip a Waiter Because He’s Gay?” read the headline on a story on Consumerist.com.

Tweeted one man: “The hatred some people have amazes me.”

That the server hasn’t stepped forward or posted a picture of the note may just mean he’s trying to hang on to his job, Hayden said. Restaurant employees typically sign agreements that they won’t speak to the media or post online photos, he said.

If they do, they’re likely to be fired, which is what happened to a server at an Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis. After a female minister left a note for her server on her bill — “I give God 10 percent. Why do you get 18?” — a picture of the bill turned up online, and the server got the ax.

“I think (the server at Carrabba’s) has shown incredible decorum in not going any further with this story than he has,” Hayden said.

And, in his view, the Carrabba’s chain doesn’t have much to gain by taking a more public position. “Right now, the best stance for them is to stay out of it,” Hayden said.

Elizabeth Watts, a spokeswoman for Carrabba’s, said the company’s only comment for now is this: “We do not tolerate discrimination — from either our employees or our guests. We embrace diversity and believe in treating everyone with respect.”

When Marvin Baker, a retired pastor in Overland Park, got wind of the incident, he and his partner had lunch at the restaurant Thursday to show their support for the waiter.

Baker told a hostess at the restaurant: “I believe you have a celebrity here.”

“It’s my son,” she said.

Baker asked to be seated in her son’s section so he could meet him and offer words of encouragement.

“I wonder how in the world they decided he was gay,” said Baker, who runs the Gay Christian Fellowship ministry on Thursday nights at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Overland Park.

“The irony is, the people said his service was excellent.”

Baker said if he could speak to the couple who left the message he would tell them this: “Ask the young man’s forgiveness.”

To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or email tengle@kcstar.com. To reach Lisa Gutierrez, email lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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